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Safety violations found at Army ammo facility during March accident

An Army ammunition specialist stacks a pallet of 155-millimeter projectiles with a forklift at Crane Army Ammunition Activity in Crane, Ind., on July 10, 2012.

Federal safety inspectors found 34 serious safety violations while investigating a March explosion and fire at a Crane Army Ammunition Activity mortar-production facility that sent five workers to the hospital.

The U.S. Occupational Health & Safety Administration, which investigates workplace injuries, uses the term “serious” to describe instances where there is “substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.”

Steve Reed of Springville, Janeth Shaht of Washington and Connie Alsman, Dana Roach and Jason O’Connor of Bloomfield were cleaning up residue from the process of manufacturing illuminated mortar rounds when an explosion in two dust collectors in the pyrotechnic building forced an access door open, causing a fire and pressure wave to strike the building.

“The Crane Army Ammunition Activity failed to ensure the facility was in compliance with established safety and health procedures,” Vanessa Martin, director of OSHA’s Indianapolis Area Office, said in a news release. “All employers are responsible for recognizing hazards in their facilities and addressing them by following OSHA standards. Thankfully, the hospitalized workers survived this unacceptable lapse in workplace safety.”

Crane Army Commander Col. Joe Dixon said munitions and explosives work on the base follows Army safety regulations. He said the Army has been working closely with OSHA since the explosion to integrate more safety features in the ammunition-based workplace.

“Obviously, when an accident occurs, you want to ensure that you truly understand the problems that caused it and eliminate the threat of it happening again,” Dixon said in a news release responding to the OSHA violations. “The safety of our workforce has to be our number one priority and it is not something that can be left to chance or luck. Only by encouraging a culture of safety in the workplace and never being complacent about it can we protect our most precious resource, our people.”

Crane’s Army installation, on a military base about 35 miles southwest of Bloomington, employs 750 workers and produces, stores, ships, renovates and demilitarizes conventional ammunition, missiles and related components. OSHA inspectors found multiple violations of the agency’s Process Safety Management standards for facilities that use highly hazardous materials and chemicals at the Crane pyrotechnic facility. Crane is the keeper of about one-third of the Department of Defense’s conventional ammunition.

Damage from the explosion and fire halted the production of pyrotechnic flares until the building is repaired and updated to improve safety.

“Ammunition handling and production is inherently dangerous, and the safety and well-being of Crane Army’s employees is important. The damaged area of the pyrotechnical facility is being renovated with improved safety features in mind,” Dixon said in the news release. “Additionally, since the accident in March, CAAA has taken a look at its processes to see where safety improvements can be made. In particular, we are looking at the dust collecting units in other types of production lines to ensure a similar accident will not occur.”

He said the facility is expected to return to full production in November.

The Crane Army division has 15 business days from receipt of the notices of unsafe working conditions to come into compliance, request a conference with OSHA’s area director or file an appeal.
 

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